Taking Over the ACE Student Awards Pt 1: Advice From Grads
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Taking Over the ACE Student Awards Pt 1: Advice From Grads
Each year, the American Cinema Editors holds a student editing competition in which students are provided the same set of video dailies they must edit into a short. The submissions are judged by a panel of professional film editors, with three finalists invited to the formal and fancy ACE Eddie Awards held in LA in January. One student recieves an Eddie award among the crowd of high level editors also being honored for their work on the year's biggest and best movies and television shows.
For the first time, one school swept the finalist nominees for the award. Not a school in New York or LA, but University of North Carolina, School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC.
Under the encouragement and guidance of their faculty -- Julian Semilian, ACE, and Michael Miller, ACE, both professional editors with traditional Hollywood careers behind them -- students at UNCSA applied to participate in the ACE competition. Three students -- Aneesa Mahboob, Chris Dold, and Emily Rayl -- traveled to Los Angeles, and Chris was presented with the statue by JJ Abrams at the ceremony. But more than just an award, the three students were able to visit Los Angeles, make strong connections, and feel welcome in the editorial community. And that's on top of four years of job-oriented preparation.
Before the Eddies, Chris, Aneesa and Emily got a tour of LA, including LACMA.
UNCSA's editing graduates have a high rate of success right out of college, while many young people struggle to land their first gig. While they're working on the last phases of their academic careers, they feel the same fear any nearly-graduated student feels: after four years of relative safety within the walls of the school, what happens next? While Chris has another year left at UNCSA, Aneesa and Emily are graduating seniors that have after-graduation jobs already secured. What has led to their success?
Aneesa Mahboob is a graduating senior at UNCSA. She always knew she would end up in post, spending the entirety of high school recording life with her friends and editing it all together. Once she got to university, she decided editing was what she loved the most and worked on networking with upperclassmen in post, eventually becoming a teaching assistant. She's most inspired by music videos and video games. "It's really fun when I go to school and people are like 'why did you come here' and I say 'well, it wasn't to make movies' -- they look at me like I've got five heads. I mean, I will gladly participate in the movie making process and I'm pursue a career in it. However, that wasn't why I came to school. Videogames and their journeys along with music videos and their mesmerizing edits have always made me want to tell my stories."
Chris Dold is a junior at UNCSA, with a year left in his undergraduate career. He started out editing his own work, jumping from Vegas to Final Cut to Premiere and Avid. "My inspirations are completely contradictory, but inform everything I do creatively. Scorsese and Schoonmaker regularly come up [as inspirations], as do Hitchcock, the classic films of Disney, Terry Gilliam, Pixar, and Alexander Payne." Chris was the winner of the 2016 Student Eddie Award.
Emily Rayl at graduation.
Emily Rayl is a graduating senior at UNCSA too. She grew up with a desire to be an actress, but when her school cut the drama program, she switched to video production class and realized she liked working behind the camera more than in front of it. Her passion for editing slowly grew until she realized one day it's all she wanted to do. "I find a lot of inspiration from my peers. We've all been working on our senior thesis films for the past few months, and I've seen the advancements and progress we've all made from our first assembly to the final picture lock. We bounce ideas off one another, and I've seen incredible work done and ideas implemented that I would have never thought to try."
Aneesa and Emily return to LA to the end of the year for a senior class trip.
CHOOSING FILM SCHOOL
Creative COW: Why did you decide to get a degree from a film school?
Aneesa: Going to film school was such a last minute decision for me. I had always been interested in the different things entailed in filmmaking, but it never really clicked that that was the right choice. I enjoyed creative writing and photography, and movies fascinated me. But I never knew you could make a career out of that, or go to school for that. But once I found out, I knew that was what I had to do.
Chris: The physical degree from film school is nice to have, but really I think that the reason for going to film school is to develop your sensibilities as an artist and make connections with future collaborators.
Emily: A film degree seemed like the next logical step for me. I had taught myself a lot, but none of what I knew compares to what I've been taught at school. I've not only learned technical skills, but also the theoretical side of film editing; how to make cuts and why. I have grown so much as a film editor and as a storyteller through the training at UNCSA.
CC: What have you done while in school to assure you're prepared for the job market?
Aneesa: To be honest, my client work has helped a lot in learning the trade and dealing with people who have a difficult time expressing what they want. In terms of the actual physical labor of post, my teachers here have taught me a variety of things in all different parts. I could basically start in any branch of post and know how to work in that environment.
Chris: I've been working to build connections with friends of faculty, fellow students, and alumni who are always looking for work to be done. Internships and various outside projects help to build up my resume and get a better foothold on what I'm doing before I'm actually thrown into the job market solo.
Emily: Luckily, UNCSA has us learning and training on the industry standard software. Our first two years, we learned Premiere Pro and Adobe Creative Suite. Knowing I wanted to be an editor, I also took it upon myself to study up on Premiere and now feel I have a strong knowledge of its ins and outs. Our final two years, we learned Avid and ProTools. While the transition was a struggle, it was definitely worth it and I feel I could walk out of school and into a professional editing environment and pick up where they left off. We also have gotten one on one mentorship when it comes to resumes and self-promotion.
Emily, Chris and Aneesa at an AVID cocktail party before the Eddies.
CC: What has been a great challenge you've had to deal with in film school?
Aneesa: My biggest challenge is learning who I can trust, who will do a film well and who is poison to the experience. I've had a mixture of both now, but it took me a long time to stop giving people the benefit of the doubt and to learn that some people really just "fake it to make it." That, and spreading myself too thin. I want to do everything and I never want to say no. I still give 110% into everything, but it becomes draining to the body and mind.
Chris: The biggest challenges I've faced in film school are difficult people. It's something that's not easy to deal with, especially if you're intertwined with the people in question for an extended period of time. But staying professional and always striving to create the best end product is what kept me going from these more unpleasant experiences. I won't give up on a project because of the people around me if I believe in the concept.
Emily: Film school, or at least UNCSA, is highly intensive, and it's up to you to manage your time. So often have I found myself signing onto projects that had been fun and great experiences, but had left me with sleepless nights and crazy amounts of stress. Especially with editing, the crew wraps and gets to enjoy the rest of their year while I spend the following months piecing it all together. Further into my school career, I picked up a part time job to start saving for post-graduation, so that was one more time suck to throw into the mix. Luckily, my senior year I better learned how to distribute my time.
Aneesa, Chris and Emily before the Eddies Ceremony
ATTENDING THE EDDIES
CC: Tell me about your experience with the Eddie Awards. Why did you choose to participate in the student competition? What was it like to learn you were nominated?
Aneesa, Chris and Emily walking the press line before the Eddies ceremony.
Aneesa: Last year, my school asked me to participate and I was a finalist then, too! So this year I asked if I could try one more time to see if I could make it. To see if last year was just a fluke, you know? Because I thought it was. And so this year was like a confirmation that I can do well in this industry as long as I work hard and do my best. Being nominated again this year was just...unreal. I remember when Emily texted me, "OMG I'M GOING TO CRY AT WORK" and I was so taken aback and amazed that all three of us finalists were all from the same school. And all friends, no less.
Aneesa and I had joked while we were both in the editorial process, "Wouldn't it be crazy if we both got to go?" I was at work (as a waitress) when I happened to check my email and saw the congratulations email. I immediately ran outside and called my mom in a breathless rant. The rest of the shift was torture, because I wanted to jump up and down and start preparations, but I had to continue to serve customers!
Chris: I was recommended to take part in the competition by one of my professors. At first I couldn't believe I was even nominated, and then when I saw that the other two nominees were from UNCSA, I was just flabbergasted.
Emily: The few days we were in LA were a whirlwind, but the best kind. I got to shake hands with people whose work I had spend the past year gawking over, and who doesn't love a chance to get dressed up and have their picture taken?
Chris: I wore a tux, which was weird, and got to meet so many of my idols, which was truly incredible. The ceremony was nerve-wracking, but luckily the student award was up first. It was an experience that will stay with me for a long time.
Heading the Eddies selfie
Aneesa: The ceremony was crazy and much more enjoyable than last year. Our mentors came and introduced us to so many people and gave us a tour of LA. It was such a wonderful experience this time around. Plus, we knew [ACE President] Alan Heim from him coming to visit our school and he remembered us. So we got cool contacts that way.
Emily, Chris and Aneesa with ACE president Alan Heim and Michael Miller.
Emily: The best part had to be going with Aneesa and Chris. We strengthened our bond, and I can say there really were no hard feelings about who did or didn't win. Okay, maybe I really wanted to shake JJ Abrams' hand. We all got to be present at the ceremony and mingle with our idols. I could never have approached half of the people I did if I didn't have those two by my side. The energy in the room for the ceremony was phenomenal, and I could only think to myself that this is just the beginning.
Snapchatting at the Eddies ceremony at the Beverly Hilton.
[Watch Aneesa's Eddies Vlog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zip_VnXCKyc]
WRAPPING UP FILM SCHOOL
CC: When students are preparing to graduate, they're usually anxious or maybe a bit scared about what the future holds. Have you been given advice for dealing with uncertainty, or found a way to deal with it on your own?
Aneesa: There's actually a class I take at my university called The Biz of Show. The whole purpose of the class is to help us answer the hard questions and mentally prepare, as well as physically prepare, for what this industry will throw at us. Of course my mentor, Michael Miller, has also a wonderful help in creating my websites, resumes, and reels, as well as advice on where to live, who to contact, and more. I'm excited to put my work out there and see what happens.
Chris: I still haven't really come to terms with the somewhat turbulent and come-and-go lifestyle I'll be enduring after school. I still do have a year until then luckily! I think that the mental adjustment should be manageable by then.
Emily: It used to be fun and games of looking at dream apartments in LA or fantasizing about future careers. Now, my mom is asking me which bank I need to switch to when I move to LA, and I'm having to look into rental insurance and car titles and lots of other fantasy-ruining reality. Luckily, we have an amazing support system at our school. I have friends who have graduated the year before me who have kept me in the loop of what's happening in LA and always offer up a couch to crash on. Even at the Eddies, we bumped into a UNCSA grad who gave amazing advice and was willing to offer any help he could. Our teachers have played a huge role in this. I am lucky enough to have a job offer in Los Angeles, all thanks to Julian Semilian who reached out to former students and friends to get me an internship this past summer. Our mentors are more than willing to sit down with us, hear our concerns, and offer up all the advice they can give.
CC: What have you worked on in film school that you are most proud of?
Aneesa: My senior film is probably my greatest accomplishment. Since I'm both picture editor and sound editor and designer, I've been able to show my greatest strengths --picture -- while also improving what I believed to be my weakness -- sound. So far, it's one of the first short films I edited in which I have very few or almost no regrets on.
Chris:I think my favorite project that I've worked on has been this most recent short film that we are finishing up because it challenged me to think more creatively about the way an edit can be put together. Performance often overrode camera preference and a few drastic changes needed to be made structurally to create a clearer story. My long term career goal is to just be happy with wherever I end up. I would be open to doing anything related to post because I find it all equally fascinating, and I now have the skills to do almost any part of post.
Emily in front of posters for all the students' films
Emily: I'd have to say what I'm most proud of are my most recent films. My third year, I got the opportunity to sound design two animated shorts, which was a challenge but also a blast. Starting with a blank canvas and then producing a film whose sound came nearly entirely from me (and Aneesa who helped rock some foley) is always something I will look back on with pride. My fourth year film was a tremendous learning experience for both editing and collaboration. My director produced amazing work from our actors, my production designer made amazing sets, my DP shot a beautiful film, my composer wrote amazing music, and I feel I've produced the best film I could with all these factors in play. Seeing all of our work come together into one final product has been one of the best feelings of the past four years.
[All UNCSA's senior films' trailers Broken by Emily Rayl, Looking Good by Aneesa Mahboob, and Junior Chris Dold edited the trailer for Looking Good -- http://www.uncsa.edu/filmmaking/student-trailers/index.aspx]
CC: What advice do you give young people who are considering going to film school?
Aneesa: Please go to film school if it's something you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Sometimes it's not all fun and games. And if you go, do not ever think average is good enough. It never is. Work your hardest, but find a balance.
Chris: Consider if where you are currently (talent-wise, intellectually, emotionally) is what you would be looking for in a creative worker. I thought I was mostly prepared for working on films going into school, but have been consistently been proven wrong with the knowledge I gain every day. I have not only learned way beyond my skill level coming in, but I have also matured greatly in my taste and personality, which I think makes me more appealing to employers.
Chris, Emily and Aneesa at a mixer before the ceremony.
Emily: Do your research and find the best fit for you. Some film schools will focus more on technical theory, some more on production. But taking that step is going to be an amazing decision. It's not only the knowledge, but the connections you make. My network of both friends and future coworkers has grown because of the work we've all done together the past four years. I used to think I was a do-it-all-myself kind of girl. I'd set up a tripod, direct the movie, shoot the movie, and edit the movie. Being exposed to more professional sets, I've learned how each part works in the industry, and I've successfully found my niche in film editing. Without film school, and without the people there, I would be a fraction of the film professional I am today.
Snapchatting through airports on the way to LA.
LIFE AFTER SCHOOL
Aneesa has two jobs lined up after graduation: teaching editing at UNCSA for summer session and serving as assistant editor for Michael Miller on a feature. After that, she'll be continuing to search for the next job. "I wouldn't say I have a dream of where I'd like to be, necessarily, other than to be able to sustain myself doing what I love. But my next goal will probably be to not only be nominated for an Eddie, but win it, too. Ha!"
Chris will be returning to UNCSA to complete his last year of film school.
Emily has a job at a trailer house in Los Angeles. After that, she's not sure what's next because she enjoys working with all genres, but she's very interested in pursuing animation. "In a way, I am alright with having a weird cloud where my future is, because it means I get to explore options and find where I best fit. And who knows, maybe I'll find a job where everything just clicks and I'll know I've found my home for the rest of my life. As long as I'm in post, I think I'll be alright."
Read on for Taking Over the ACE Awards 2: How to Make Film School Work, an interview with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts faculty on the balance between technique and creativity, and what it takes to succeed in film school and in a post production career.